Nationwide is officially on Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s side.
Just a half-hour before NASCAR announced that Comcast’s XFINITY brand in 2015 will replace Nationwide Insurance as the entitlement sponsor for what is now known as the Nationwide Series, the Columbus, Ohio-based insurance company revealed what Earnhardt’s Sprint Cup race car will look like carrying NWI colors.
Those colors — which we’re calling “Junior Blue” — will be heavy on blue and white, similar to the so-called “Petty Blue” on Richard Petty Motorsports’ No. 43 Ford Fusion driven by Aric Almirola.
Nationwide has been the entitlement sponsor for the NNS the last seven seasons. Due to changes in marketing strategy, it elected to let its current contract with NASCAR lapse at the end of this season.
In turn, NWI will become one of Earnhardt’s primary sponsors in the Sprint Cup Series starting in 2015, part of a three-year deal. Nationwide will essentially replace National Guard, which is ending its motorsports sponsorship programs in NASCAR and IndyCar (Graham Rahal) at the end of this season.
MORE: Nationwide Insurance gets early start on Dale Jr. primary sponsorship
Fans will get a sneak preview of sorts of that new sponsorship and the colors in this weekend’s final qualifying race for the Chase for the Sprint Cup at Richmond International Raceway.
Nationwide Insurance will also increase its associate sponsorship presence in 2015 on the cars of Danica Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
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MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the Verizon IndyCar Series field in 2015 with Marco Andretti, who finished ninth after another top-10 season in points.
Marco Andretti, No. 27 Andretti Autosport Honda
- 2014: 9th Place, Best Finish 2nd, Best Start 5th, 2 Podiums, 2 Top-5, 9 Top-10, 23 Laps Led, 12.4 Avg. Start, 12.2 Avg. Finish
- 2015: 9th Place, Best Finish 2nd, Best Start 3rd, 2 Podiums, 4 Top-5, 11 Top-10, 60 Laps Led, 11.5 Avg. Start, 9.1 Avg. Finish
It was a dependable, quiet but usually consistent season from Marco Andretti, who up until the final quarter of the season had actually been his father’s most reliable finisher.
Andretti didn’t necessarily have a ton of standout drives but he was usually there or thereabouts, and by the end of the day he was often at the low ends of the top-10, which earlier this year given the at-times troublesome Honda aero kit package on road and street courses was more of an accomplishment than you’d think. Three top-10 results in the first four races was proof positive of that.
As ever Andretti excelled most on the big ovals. Sixth at the Indianapolis 500 was as good as was possible given the lack of top-end speed; similarly, he probably could have emerged at the head of the field at Fontana, ending third when all was said and done.
His best result was second in the rain at Detroit race one, although coming second to teammate Carlos Munoz had to sting a little bit. Andretti had driven well that race, and was unfortunate not to be rewarded with his first win in four years.
The thing that would have been his standout stat of the year, finishing every lap, game unglued with an odd accident on home soil in Pocono. It was a shame to see because Andretti was typically good, if not great, for yet another season.
MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the driver-by-driver lineup in the Verizon IndyCar Series, after the 2015 season, with eighth-placed Tony Kanaan.
Tony Kanaan, No. 10 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet
- 2014: 7th Place, 1 Win, Best Start 2nd, 6 Podiums, 6 Top-5, 12 Top-10, 407 Laps Led, 9.2 Avg. Start, 9.3 Avg. Finish
- 2015: 8th Place, Best Finish 2nd, Best Start 2nd, 3 Podiums, 6 Top-5, 10 Top-10, 213 Laps Led, 7.6 Avg Start, 9.9 Avg. Finish
You have to give TK credit. Armed with one of the best cars on the grid, Kanaan has certainly raised his game the last two years, and probably hasn’t received enough credit or enough results for some of his drives he’s put in since joining Chip Ganassi Racing after the 2013 season.
The 2015 season was no exception. All 10 of his top-10 finishes were between second and seventh, so there were plenty of times he was in win and podium contention. The other area where he improved was his qualifying. Kanaan only had two starts outside the top-12 all season, one of which occurred at Detroit race two, where the grid was set by points following a rain cancellation. Detroit was pretty much the only weekend where Kanaan didn’t figure into qualifying or the race. Blame the Taylor Swift-inspired Big Machine Records livery for that one if you want.
Accidents at the Indianapolis 500 and Pocono were costly retirements as Kanaan definitely had a shot to win both those races. But realistically you couldn’t find many other faults. Losing a sure win at Iowa due to a mechanical issue was a gutting blow. He was also unlucky to come up just shy at Fontana, and may have prevailed in a last-lap shootout.
More often that not however, Kanaan was firmly on top of his game, and reliably on par with his championship-winning teammate Scott Dixon, which was all you could ask for. It’s fitting the two of them opened the year as part of the winning lineup in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, with Kanaan then helping out matters by finishing ahead of Juan Pablo Montoya at Sonoma, to ensure Dixon had enough points to win the title on countback.